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As December rolls in, the festive spirit of the season can quickly give way to financial stress. Between family meals, memorable experiences, travel expenses and a growing gift list, the cost of carousing adds up quickly.
According to NerdWallet’s annual holiday shopping report, 85% of Americans plan to spend an average of $831 on gifts this season. And that figure pales in comparison to the travel sector, where, according to NerdWallet’s 2023 holiday travel report, nearly 50% of Americans expect to spend an average of $1,947 on seasonal flights and hotel stays.
With some strategic spending, though, you don't have to let your holiday budget get out of hand. Here are our five best credit card tips to make your dollars go further this month.
» SEE: Best credit cards right now
Look for targeted bonus offers on your existing cards
Your inbox may be the first place to check for extra credit card savings this season. Within the deluge of marketing emails we all receive this time of year, you may find targeted offers from your existing credit card issuers that will make holiday spending more rewarding.
A few examples from NerdWallet’s credit card writers:
A targeted offer from IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card earned one writer 7x points on gas, 5x points on groceries, and 5x points on Amazon purchases.
Discover offered another writer an extra 6% back on grocery store purchases using his Discover it® Cash Back, up to $1,000 spent.
After not using his Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® for some time, one credit cards editor was recently offered up to 5,000 bonus miles for making just three purchases over the next three billing cycles.
The keyword here is targeted offer. These aren’t publicly listed rewards rates, and your available offers may be totally different than your friend's. But rewards from targeted offers can quickly add up, so it’s worth sifting through your spam folder to see what’s available.
If you have a Chase credit card, visit https://www.chase.com/mybonus to check your available offers.
Save on groceries and gas when gathering
Whether you’re hosting a crowd at home or road-tripping to celebrate with family and friends, another noteworthy offer from Chase can help offset the cost gathering for the holidays.
For a limited time, new Chase Freedom Flex℠ cardholders who apply directly through Chase can earn 5% cash back on gas and at grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 in spending in the first year. That's in addition to an impressive sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Note: These offers are available only to those who apply directly through Chase. NerdWallet application links feature a different offer.
Finance the holidays while earning rewards
As spending heats up this month, keep in mind that the cost of merrymaking could linger well into the new year. In fact, NerdWallet’s 2023 Holiday Report found that of the 52% of Americans who incurred holiday credit card debt in 2022, nearly a third have yet to pay off those balances.
If you need a little flexibility to cover holiday costs, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® may be the perfect gift. It offers 0% intro APR on purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 20.49%-29.24% Variable APR. But unlike many 0% intro APR credit cards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® doesn’t sacrifice rewards. In fact, the card currently offers this valuable sign-up bonus: Unlimited Matched Cash Back. Chase will automatically match all the cash back you earned at the end of your first year! There is no limit to how much cash back you can earn.
Given the card’s already generous earnings, this cash-back match adds up quickly. Here’s a look at the Chase Freedom Unlimited®’s ongoing rewards, and how those translate with the current bonus offer:
Sign-up bonus: Unlimited Matched Cash Back. Chase will automatically match all the cash back you earned at the end of your first year! There is no limit to how much cash back you can earn.
Typical rewards rate
Rewards rate for the first year with unlimited cash back match
While earning a minimum of 3% back on purchases is impressive, this offer’s potential value toward travel costs is much higher. Learn more here about how to make the most of the Chase Freedom Unlimited® current rewards-matching offer.
Earn a sign-up bonus through holiday spending
With all the extra spending you’ll be doing this month, now is a great time to earn a credit card sign-up bonus. Once approved, you can apply all your seasonal spending to a single card, earning a windfall of rewards with no need to keep track of spending categories.
Here are a few cards with bonus offers worth considering right now:
Citi Double Cash® Card: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.
United℠ Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 140,000 Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Redeem rewards to pay for gifts
Speaking of sign-up bonuses, remember the one you signed up for last holiday season? Did you redeem all those rewards? If not, consider how they might help you out with this year’s holiday spending.
Some credit cards rewards programs will allow you to redeem points for cash, statement credits, or gift cards to specific retailers without diminishing point values. If you’ve been stockpiling rewards on a cash back credit card such as the Citi Double Cash® Card or the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, you can safely convert those points to cash or statement credits to help offset the cost of holiday purchases.
Nerdy tip: If you have leftover rewards on a travel credit card, think twice before redeeming those for cash or statement credits. Trading travel points for cash may reduce the value of your points. For example, Membership Rewards earned from some American Express cards are worth just 0.6 cent each when redeemed for statement credit. »MORE: Which credit card reward programs let you shop with points on Amazon?